Recent holiday reading included David Zindell's War in Heaven, which concludes his huge great fat 'A Requiem for Homo Sapiens' trilogy, itself a follow-up to the hefty Neverness. Zindell's a pretty good writer, although he could usefully take more care (as Wolfe and Vance do) to provide clarifying context for his odder words. For example, is a genuine distinction being reflected in the fact that the icy skate-ways of Neverness city are variously called glissades, slidderies, glidderies and something else that I forget? I looked up 'cark' when reading The Wild and thought it had good etymological roots for a word meaning 'to load into different media' (most typically, human personality into computer), but never got the hang of 'slel', and remain unable to visualize or etymologize the weapon called a 'tlolt' (subvarieties 'eye-tlolt', 'heat-tlolt' and 'mercury-tlolt' ... probably an acronym with 'target locking' in there somewhere, but hardly one that comes tripping off the tongue like 'laser'). No doubt everything is defined at one point or another, but I haven't read the whole series and could have used the occasional reminder in any case.
Anyway, War in Heaven sees our hero Danlo finally winning through after lots of suffering, and the ending is generally satisfactory – an exception being the good old sf sleight of hand whereby invincible-seeming bad guys like the Silicon God (a galactic-scale machine intelligence) are not so much dealt with as explained away as being, um, really rather unimportant when you know the Big Picture. Which includes offstage di ex machina who have helpfully countered the problem of cosmological limits to growth by – if I understood that bit correctly – introducing continuous creation and retrospectively justifying the steady-state theory. Fred Hoyle should give it a nice review.
Interestingly, Zindell seems to be laying extensive ground-bait for critics by planting a string of parallels between Danlo and Paul Muad'dib of Dune. Both their sagas include the following elements, not all of which are routine trappings of the Hero With A Thousand Sequels ...
- Strangely and specially blue eyes.
- An extreme ecosystem (one desert, one vacuum) whose fundamental biota are called little makers.
- Centrally important planets named for their climates: Dune, Icefall.
- Spaceship navigation dependent on peculiar and almost superhuman skills, licensed and controlled by a Guild.
- A universal ban on nuclear weapons, evaded by a quibble when battle begins.
- A religiously charged political climate, ripe for dodgy god-cults.
- At least one jihad.
- The strange death or absence of the hero's father.
- Deadly wire monofilaments and poisoned teeth.
- The death of the hero's young son born of a mistress.
- A widespread cultural prejudice against machine intelligence – the (Samuel) Butlerian Jihad of Dune's back-story had the precise object of forestalling the emergence of anything like the Silicon God.
- A crucial rite of passage involving mastery of a beast: sandworm, bear.
- Mystically significant race memories, transmitted along the line of Herbert's Reverend Mothers and buried in Zindell's genetic "Elder Eddas".
- Personal transcendence leading to miraculous powers of internal biochemical transformation (Paul alters the chemistry of one dangerous drug after being dosed with it; Danlo outdoes this, with two) and psychic vision (Paul sees multiple futures, Danlo the entire present universe).
- A concluding hand-to-hand struggle that settles the fate of the cosmos....
A few odd words are also vaguely similar, like drugs called elacca (Herbert) and ekkana (Zindell). One major difference is that Herbert provided a glossary: a Good Thing. Further research is left as an exercise for the student.